“I wanted people to confess…, tell the truth … and own up to their crimes” – Justice needs of victim-survivors of sexual violence and their experiences with transitional justice

Dr Judith Rafferty1

1James Cook University, Cairns, Australia

This presentation discusses the findings of research that investigates the justice needs of female victim-survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and explores their experiences with transitional justice. The research focuses on the needs and experiences of Rwandan female victim-survivors who suffered sexual violence during the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994 and who had their case(s) tried at one of Rwanda’s gacaca courts. The gacaca court system was established in 2001 by the Rwandan government to deal with genocide-related crimes with the intent to reveal the truth, end the ‘culture of impunity’ and promote both justice and reconciliation.

The research was informed by phenomenological and feminist methodologies, utilised a qualitative approach and is based on semi-structured interviews with 23 Rwandan victim-survivors, conducted by the presenter in 2015/2016 with the assistance of a Kinyarwanda speaker. The interviews focused on investigating the women’s motivations to participate in gacaca and their experiences with the process. The analysis of the interviews revealed a comprehensive set of justice needs, which are distinguished as process-related and outcome-related justice needs. This presentation will focus on the women’s outcome-related justice needs, including truth recovery, consequences, perpetrator responsibility, safety, vindication, validation, reparation and empowerment. The presentation will also discuss how the women’s needs were considered at the gacaca courts.


Dr Judith Rafferty is a Senior Lecturer in the Conflict Management and Resolution program at JCU. She is also an experienced conflict resolution practitioner, trainer and researcher. Her research focuses on people impacted by conflict and their experiences with justice processes, including in Australia and in international settings. For her PhD, Judith analysed the experiences of female victim-survivors of conflict-related sexual violence with transitional justice processes, focusing on Rwandan women who suffered sexual violence during the genocide against the Tutsi and who had raised their case at a gacaca court. Judith also spent several months in remote villages of the Central African Republic as a Conflict Resolution Specialist with International Rescue Committee (IRC). In this role, Judith conducted research with Village Chiefs and other community members about their experiences with conflict and conflict resolution, including the handling of rape and other violent crimes. Judith has published in Australian and international journals and has presented at both Australian and international conferences.


Dec 08 2021